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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, September 03, 2019 6:10 pm

Schools get $19 million in school safety grants

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana awarded $19 million in school safety grants today – but extensive changes to the program have caused some districts to see their funding cut in half while other districts doubled their money.

There also was a $4.8 million shortfall in funding between what schools sought versus the money lawmakers provided.

"Indiana remains fully committed to ensuring the safety of Hoosier schools," Gov. Eric Holcomb said. "I’m proud this critical grant program can meet the top safety needs of school districts across the state. This is the latest evolution of how our state partners with local schools to address this issue and help parents, students and staff feel safe and secure each day."

But Jay County Schools Superintendent Jeremy Gulley questioned whether the money is being distributed equitably, noting his district’s allocation dropped from $50,000 last year to $25,000 this year.

"I don’t think it was intentional, but the effect and impact was arbitrary," he said of a new prioritization system imposed on the grants. "Districts never contemplated losing money."

Other districts in the area that saw large drops were Huntington Community Schools and MSD Bluffton-Harrison.

But some schools saw an increase – such as Northwest Allen County Schools jumping from $50,000 to $100,000. Garrett-Keyser-Butler schools also jumped from $15,000 to $72,500. Messages seeking comment from other districts were not returned Tuesday.

Overall, so many levers were changed making it hard to find a clear pattern on which schools saw cuts versus which ones jumped.

On one hand, lawmakers increased funding to $19 million from $15 million the year before. That meant the average award grew from $36,743 in 2019 to $44,478 in 2020.

But legislators also greatly expanded what the money could be spent on – from three categories to six. They also doubled the maximum grant that districts could receive to $100,000. And they restructured what percent of matching grants is required by the districts or schools – allowing more to participate.

Overall, the number of schools or districts receiving grants rose from 388 to 429 as more requests came in than ever.

David Hosick, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, said the Indiana Secured School Safety Grant board this year required districts to prioritize their requests. Then after all the applications were received the board decided to grant all Tier I requests.

The board also fully funded all eligible projects geared toward creating health and wellness support services for parents and students, a newly eligible category passed in April by the General Assembly.

In Gulley’s case, his request for $25,000 for a school resource officer was granted because it was Tier 1. But $15,000 for training and $10,000 for equipment was not. The other categories include threat assessments and active event warning systems.

Hosick said if the total amount was simply divided equally among schools and districts, that could leave projects only partially funded and up in the air.

"Each school's needs are unique so we asked them to prioritize," he said. "Everybody gets something. Every school receives an award. We are trying to be equitable."

The rough breakdown of the funding is $12.1 million to school resource officers; $5.5 million to equipment and technology; $1 million to create student and parent support services plans; $144,000 to threat assessments; $90,000 to active event warning systems and $3,300 to training.

Gulley is concerned that the system could be gamed in the future by combining projects all into one top priority item rather than separating them out.

nkelly@jg.net